The problem with Thanksgiving Day has always boiled down to this: How do you commercially exploit a holiday that celebrates gratitude? What's the trick for getting people counting their blessings to pause in their prayers of thankfulness, and get back in tune with their lust for consumer electronics?
What's more, Thanksgiving Day often causes these same consumers to dabble with the idea that the most important things in their lives were non-material – that contentment doesn't come from a store. Talk about a slippery slope. Face it: There's just no money in thankfulness.
Now, you may not see this as a problem. You may, like me, rejoice over the fact that while that big holiday in December has increasingly become a festival of orgiastic consumerism, Thanksgiving Day has remained largely uncorrupted; it's still mainly about breaking bread with the people most important to us, and focusing on what we already have, instead of what we want. You may also, like me, regard Thanksgiving Day's enduring resistance to corruption with a certain astonishment. Hardly anything stays that pure these days.
Thanksgiving Day has remained simple, subtle, hype-less – in other words, a big dud, charge card-wise. Lo these many years, Thanksgiving has been regarded, from the retail point of view, as nothing but an irritating speed bump on the way to the Christmas shopping season. The best retailers could do to link Thanksgiving Day to the insanity of Christmas was to call it the pause before the starting gun – Black Friday Eve, so to speak.
We knew it couldn't last, and it didn't. In recent years some stores declared that Black Friday would begin at 8 p.m. Thursday. This year Walmart will start the madness at 6 p.m. Thursday, before the dishes are even washed. Best Buy will open at 6 p.m., and Toys R Us at 5 p.m., while we're still eating our pumpkin pie.
In a story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Britt Beemer, CEO of America's Research Group, which investigates consumer habits, is quoted as saying: "It's kind of sad, but probably to be expected. I thought retailers would respect the 8 o'clock hour more, but it didn't take. ...By moving up to 6 o'clock, we're now encroaching into that Thanksgiving digestion time."
Meanwhile, Meijer, Macy's, Target and J.C Penney will open at 8 p.m. Thursday. That almost sounds reasonable, which demonstrates the subtle ways of corruption.
The headline on an Oct. 31 story on Time magazine's website declared: "Stores are about to push further into Thanksgiving Day." The story said, in part: "It seems like there’s no stopping consumerism from creeping deeper and deeper into Thanksgiving. ...As more retailers and shopping centers have jumped on board, the 'Black Thursday' trend has snowballed.”
The writer pointed out that that while many Americans cluck their tongues at the encroachment, there never seems to be a shortage of bargain hunters, regardless of when the stores open. If the deals are good enough, nothing is sacred.
So, if 6 p.m., why not 4 p.m? Why not noon, or 6 a.m.? Where is it written that Thanksgiving Day must include a big meal with the people we love? Can't we say our thank-yous at the mall food court?
Who among us can watch the perennial Black Friday TV news footage of people trampling over other people to celebrate the birth of Christ, and not wince? Now, imagine this spectacle unfolding on Thanksgiving Day. The irony would be too brutal to take.
It's unlikely that the retail juggernaut can be stopped. It's only a matter of time before the only parades we see on Thanksgiving Day are parades of shoppers.
Our ace in the hole, however, is our individual discretion. We all have the power, within our own households, to cherish Thanksgiving Day as an opportunity for spiritual enrichment, as opposed to material acquisition.
And we can leave our TVs off that day, so we don't have to watch the shoppers trample all over Thanksgiving Day.